Well, now that my Hammers have fallen, 2-0, to Chelsea, I suppose it's time to remember that American football is being played today. And what
outstanding good football it is at that! Let's preview the two games and see whether or not the Illini can run a surprising statistic to three and if Rutgers can succumb to the B1G bowl tradition.
Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl || Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
When: Noon CST
Line: LaTech -6, O/U: 59.5
When Illinois has the ball: Could it be the Riley O'Toole show again? The senior QB from Wheaton, IL, hasn't been outstanding throwing the ball (9 TD vs. 7 INT), but sliced Northwestern's defense last we saw him, running for 147 yards on 21 (!!!) carries. The Bulldogs enter with a 15th-ranked rush defense in the nation (117.9 ypg, 3.28 ypc), though teams have managed their rushing TDs (18) against them. Expect Illinois to enter this one with the same rushing attack it brought to Northwestern, using O'Toole, Josh Ferguson, and Donovonn Young to give the Bulldogs a number of different looks out of the backfield. When O'Toole drops back to pass, the Illini should find lanes, but perhaps not a ton of space: while LaTech rates out at the 81st-best defense in terms of passing yardage allowed per game, their pass efficiency defense rates 29th and generated an NCAA-leading 40 turnovers, 25 through the air. Mikey Dudek reference goes here. Kid will need to jet past the Bulldog secondary today.
When LaTech has the ball: Hey, Iowa fans! Remember this guy? Cody Sokol calls the signals for the Bulldogs, pacing an up-tempo attack with 3189 yards and 29 TD passes on the year. Illinois is still a terrible, terrible passing defense (95th in overall efficiency), but doesn't allow too much in terms of actual yardage. Unfortunately for Illinois, that's meant they've allowed the big play instead. Look for the Bulldogs' home run threat Carlos Henderson to catch something long. Kenneth Dixon will do the yeoman's work carrying the ball for LaTech: the Strong, AR, junior averaged 5.2 ypc while racking up 1236 yards and 21 TDs. With Sokol's ability to throw the ball (still laughing, Iowa fans) forcing Illinois to play him honest on defense, unlike Zach Oliver's abysmal showing in the LOLHat game, Dixon should have room to run. When the Bulldogs opt for play-action, Sokol has a plethora of receivers he can hit.
Miscellany: Illinois boasts a two-game winning streak in bowl games. So there's that. They seriously have won their last two bowl games. B1G. Justin DuVernois is pretty good at punting the football, too.
Pick: LaTech, 38-27.
Worth Noting: Here's how you all picked the game:
All stats courtesy of ESPN team pages and NCAA statistics rankings.
Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
Quick Lane Bowl || Ford Field, Detroit, MI
When: 3:30 PM Central
Line: North Carolina (-3), O/U: 65.5
When Rutgers has the ball: Normally this section starts with the players that Rutgers has, but I'd like to go a different direction. Specifically, I'd like to talk about how North Carolina is awful on defense. They are currently allowing a whopping 38.9 PPG (ranked 119/128 FBS teams), giving up 495.7 YPG (also 119th), allowing 6.4 YPP (only 114th), allowing 5.0 yard per rush (102nd), and a mind blowing 8.5 yard per passing attempt (121st). Football Outsiders ranks them 105th in Defensive S&P and 111th in Defensive FEI. What I'm trying to say here is that when Rutgers has the ball, they could play with ten players from the stands and probably still move the ball effectively.
So, the game plan for Rutgers will be pretty simple: let Gary Nova do his thing. Coming off of a crazy game against Maryland in which he tossed four TDs and helped erase some pretty awful play against the Spartans, Nova should be licking his chops at the chance to tear apart this North Carolina attack (hahahaha, I said attack referring to this defensive atrocity). In the rushing attack - which really will be a setup for the pass most likely - freshman Robert Martin seems to be getting the carries as of late. Not knowing Rutgers intimately, I'm not sure if that's the way they'll keep going, but he's been plenty effective so far. I'm guessing he'll get a few gaps against this North Carolina "defense".
When North Carolina has the ball: Here's some good news for North Carolina, Rutgers' defense isn't exactly a world beater either. The Scarlet Knights actually come into this game allowing a massive 6.47 yard per play, which comes in two places lower than the Tar Heel defense actually. Those yards convert into a 30.9 points per game situation which means that this game could turn into one of those, "Hey, who has the ball last?" affairs. Whereas North Carolina was truly awful defending the pass, the same could be said about Rutgers defending the run. They are allowing 5.54 yards per rushing attempt (120th) and are allowing 211.75 yards per game (107th).
North Carolina hasn't exactly been the best offense either, but they can pass the ball a little bit and boast the 30th best passing attack from a total yards per game stance. Dual-threat Marquise Williams threw for 2870 yards, 20 TDs, and added 12 more rushing TDs to go with 737 yards on the ground. He's going to be a handful for Rutgers, and this game is looking more and more like shootout. If Rutgers starts getting burned on the ground by Williams and has to sacrifice a man to the box, look for a pretty talented group of Tar Hell receivers to burn them over the top.
Miscellany: I don't know... Rutgers is B1G now? This game is in Detroit? The O/U isn't high enough?
Pick: Rutgers, 45-42.
Worth Noting: Here's how you all picked the game: